Archive for January 21st, 2009



You didn’t read wrong.  This post is about sexting – the act of sending a text message to a friend via cell phone with a nude photo of themselves attached.  You may be very surprised to hear that this is commonplace in youth culture right now.  You may even become horrified by checking your kids cell phones.  They could be taking part in this.  That is one reaction – I would suggest a different approach.  

Conversations about sexting should take place between you and your teenagers.  Chances are the cell phone that your teen is using is being paid for by you and is part of your cell plan.  It is the responsibility of every parent to help guide teenagers through the decisions that they make.  Without proper guidance by parents and others in their lives teens fall prey to the pressure of their friends and end up making choices that they will ultimately regret.

I’ve been holding onto this post for about a month and today seems like the appropriate day to post it.  If you are a parent or a youth worker – please read every word of this – but then don’t just shrug your shoulders and walk away.  Do something.  We need to be proactive in protecting the teenagers in our lives.  Some days that means protecting them from themselves and the poor choices that they make.

Nude photos of teens reflect inexperience

article originally printed in the Chicago Sun Times

It’s 10 p.m. Do you know who your teenager is texting? And, more importantly, do you know what your child is texting?

A recent survey hosted by Teenage Research Unlimited found that 20 percent of teenagers have sent or posted nude or seminude pictures or videos of themselves.

The possible repercussions of these scandalous photos are tremendous. The original poster or sender loses control of the content once he sends or posts it on the Internet. Not only is this photo or video likely to be passed around the school, it is also likely to be passed around the Web — possibly for many years to come. From college admission boards to future employers, everyone can have potential access to these ill-advised photo sessions.

Believe it or not, most teenagers are actually well aware of these consequences. Some 73 percent of teenagers in this survey said they knew photos and videos such as these could have “serious negative consequences.” And yet many teens choose to take the photos regardless of the possible fallout.


It could be that even though teens claim to understand the possible negative consequences of so-called “sexting,” they don’t fully grasp the concept. Yes, they have been told of the possible consequences and have even seen the consequences play out in their lives of their favorite celebrities, such as Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian and Vanessa Hudgens.

However, research has shown the teenage brain and the young adult brain is not fully developed. A part of the brain called the dorsal-lateral prefrontal cortex is still developing through these years. The dorsal-lateral prefrontal cortex is believed to be responsible for judgment and consideration of risk, so its lack of development in adolescents and young adults might lead them to make risky or poor decisions.

No wonder teenagers seem more willing to try dangerous or thoughtless behavior, such as racing down the street in their parents’ new car or sexting the cute boy in science class. Thus, all of those times that you threw your hands in the air and asked your teenager, “What were you thinking?!” the answer really might be that they weren’t, because their brain isn’t fully developed yet.

Don’t get me wrong; this doesn’t mean that teenagers aren’t highly intelligent or capable of complex thought. It just means that the “live and learn” theory might really be true in the case of adolescents. Until they suffer the consequences firsthand, or until their brains finish developing in their 20s, their judgment calls won’t always be the best.

Unfortunately, by the time these “sexting” teenagers live and learn, they might have irreparably damaged their reputation and their future.

What’s the solution?

Until your teenagers are able to make wise decisions, you can substitute your judgment for theirs. You can certainly forbid sexting and other degrading behavior in your home, and you’ll need to be vigilant to enforce that boundary.

Talk to them about what’s happening among their peers and ask if they’ve been involved in sexting themselves. Without anger or judgement of them, talk about the repercussions short term and long term and share your own values. Ask them their thoughts. But it’s by instilling a high sense of self-worth in your teens from an early age that you can best prepare them for making wise decisions.

Talk to your children about the value of their sexuality and how priceless their bodies are. This should be an ongoing conversation from the time they learn about what sex is. By giving them the support and guidance they need you’ll get through the tumultuous adolescent years together, until their best judgment kicks in.